Photo/IllutrationA nonprofit organization in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, creates space for children of foreign nationality to study outside of the school classroom. (Tomoko Yamashita)

As many as 20,000 children of foreign nationality may not be attending school in Japan despite being eligible to enroll, according to the first government study on the issue.

The nationwide survey by the education ministry followed the enactment from April of a revised Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law that included a new visa that will allow thousands of foreign nationals to work in Japan in coming years.

While the central government pushed for the legal revision to deal with a manpower shortage in certain sectors, it has not extended the same concerns for broadening programs to help non-Japanese children.

Local government officials in charge of handling elementary and junior high school education say the lack of legal requirements on mandatory education for children of foreign nationality made it more difficult to force non-Japanese parents to send their children to school. They also say the central government does not allocate sufficient funds in its budget to provide support programs for foreign children.

For the study, the education ministry asked boards of education around the nation to check on foreign children included in the resident registers of local governments as of May.

Of the 124,000 or so foreign children of school age for elementary and junior high school, 1,000 children were found not to be in school after interviews were conducted with their parents. No confirmation could be made on 8,768 other children about their educational status because their parents were not at home when education board officials visited.

Officials determined that another 9,886 children were listed in resident registers, but no concerted effort was made to pin down whether they were attending school or not.

Many of the foreign children not attending school reside in urban areas, such as Tokyo and the prefectures of Kanagawa, Aichi, Chiba and Osaka, which have sizable foreign communities.

The study also found that many local governments did not seem to be overly concerned about whether foreign children got an education. Close to 40 percent of local governments had not sent out the notices to foreign households informing them of the right of their children to an education.

Japanese children are normally obliged to undergo nine years of mandatory education, and their parents receive notices automatically when their offspring reach school age.

Of the 1,092 local governments that bothered to notify foreign families, only 205 did so in English. Such information was provided in Portuguese in 119 cases and 118 in Chinese.

The education ministry pledged to take additional steps to grasp whether foreign children are attending school and are aware of their right to an education in light of the fact that numbers are bound to increase as more foreign workers arrive.

The ministry's basic position is that while there are no legal obligations on the part of foreign children to attend school, their right to an education is guaranteed under the law.

But providing additional tutoring to foreign children whose language ability may not be sufficient or other measures are still mainly the domain of individual local governments.

Yoshimi Kojima, an associate professor of education sociology at Aichi Shukutoku University, cited a number of reasons for foreign children not attending school. Some had to take care of younger siblings at home, while others had to work for economic reasons. Some foreign children stopped attending because their Japanese was inadequate to keep up with classes.

She said local governments need to establish systems that lay out a minimum level of support in terms of the notices about schooling and grasping their educational status.

Kojima also called on the central government to revise its oft-stated position that there are no immigrants in Japan.

A separate study by the education ministry found that a record 50,759 children in fiscal 2018 required additional tutoring in Japanese, an increase of 6,812 from two years ago. Of those attending elementary, junior and senior high schools, 40,485 children had foreign nationality.

The study also found that about 20 percent of the children were not receiving the additional support they needed to maintain their Japanese language proficiency.

The study painted a gloomy picture for those who needed the additional support in comparison with other students.

Senior high school students who needed the tutoring were 7.4 times more likely to drop out. Such students were also 9.3 times more likely to end up with irregular jobs and 2.7 times more likely to not go on to university or join the workforce.

(This article was compiled from reports by Daisuke Yajima and Tomoko Yamashita.)